Clause 77 - Reports by skilled persons

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:15 pm ar 22 Mehefin 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendments made: 21, in clause 77, page 47, line 3, after “such” insert “business”.

This amendment limits the duty to assist a skilled person by giving access to premises so that it applies only in relation to business premises.

Amendment 22, in clause 77, page 47, line 3, after “premises” insert “(see section 69(7))”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 16.

Amendment 23, in clause 77, page 47, line 4, leave out “persons” and insert “individuals”.

This amendment limits the duty to assist a skilled person by giving access to persons so that it applies only in relation to persons who are individuals.

Amendment 24, in clause 77, page 47, line 5, at end insert—

“(13) The duty in section 77(12) does not include a duty to give access to premises, equipment or individuals outside the United Kingdom.

(14) But the duty in section 77(12) does include a duty to give access to information and services whether stored or provided within or outside the United Kingdom.”—

This amendment limits the duty to assist a skilled person by giving access to premises, equipment or individuals so that it does not include a duty to give access to premises, equipment or individuals outside the United Kingdom.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 78 to 80 stand part.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

Clauses 77 to 80 introduce the final elements to support the DMU’s investigatory powers.

Clause 77 will give the DMU the power to authorise a skilled person to provide a report to it in relation to an SMS firm, or firm subject to an SMS investigation, on a matter relevant to the operation of the regime. That is needed to give the DMU access to expert reports to enable it to interpret technical information gathered when carrying out its digital markets functions.

Clause 78 will impose a legal duty on certain people to preserve evidence that is relevant to a digital markets investigation or to a compliance report in relation to an SMS firm. That duty will also apply when the DMU is providing investigative assistance to an overseas regulator. That will ensure that no party may destroy, conceal or falsify any relevant evidence without reasonable excuse.

Clause 79 will prevent the DMU from requiring any person to provide any information that is subject to legal professional privilege or, in Scotland, to confidentiality of communications. It will also prevent the DMU from seizing or taking copies or extracts from such material. An exception is made, however, where it is not practicable to separate privileged information from non-privileged information. In such cases, the information will be subject to the safeguards under part 2—“Powers of seizure”—of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. Legal professional privilege is a fundamental principle of justice that ensures that parties’ rights to a fair trial and privacy are protected. That is because legal advice is confidential to the client to whom it is given.

Clause 80 will give the DMU the power to publish a notice of any decision to assist a regulator in another country with an investigation. That ensures that the DMU cannot be sued for defamation as a result of publishing a notice of a decision to provide investigative assistance, provided it is in line with the requirements set out in the clause. It is essential that the DMU is able to support other regulators without undue fear of legal action, which might limit its ability to assist in pursuing challenging international cases effectively.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 12:30, 22 Mehefin 2023

It is a pleasure to speak to this group of clauses on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd, who is speaking in another debate.

We support clause 77, which will give the CMA the power to require a skilled person, which could be a legal or other person, to provide a report to it on a matter relevant to the operation of the regime. That is in line with other regimes of that nature, and we therefore support its inclusion.

The clarity afforded by subsection (1), which sets out that the CMA can use this power in

“exercising, or deciding whether to exercise, any of its digital markets functions”, is welcome. It is also right that the CMA can exercise the power only in relation to a designated undertaking or an undertaking subject to an SMS investigation.

In order to ensure no unnecessary delay, subsections (2) and (3), which will give the CMA the power to appoint a skilled person to provide a report and give notice of the appointment and other relevant matters to the undertaking in question, while also specifying the form of a report, are an important inclusion. That aligns well with subsection (12), which imposes a duty on the designated undertaking or undertaking subject to an SMS investigation, and any person connected to those undertakings, to assist the skilled person in any way reasonably required to prepare the report.

One hopes that designated undertakings would co-operate in such instances, but it is welcome and helpful to have their obligations outlined as they are in clause 77. Clarity on the consequences of failing to comply, in the form of penalties or other enforcement provisions, is also an important and positive step. Labour has therefore not sought to amend the clause at this stage; we believe it should stand part of the Bill, as drafted.

As with any regulatory regime, the CMA should of course preserve relevant evidence. Clause 78 is integral, because it places a legal duty to preserve evidence that is relevant to a digital markets investigation, a compliance report by a designated undertaking, and evidence where the CMA is providing investigative assistance to an overseas regulator. The Bill also confirms that where the CMA has made a formal request for information, there are penalties for non-compliance, or for falsifying, concealing or destroying information.

Labour supports the purpose of clause 78, which is to preserve evidence before and after the CMA has made a formal request. We believe that it is consistent with the existing duty to preserve evidence under section 201(4) of the Enterprise Act 2002 on cartel offence investigations. We note, however, that the duties within this clause do not apply

“where the person has a reasonable excuse to do so.”

I—and, I am sure, others—would welcome clarification from the Minister on that point. We support the intentions of the clause and have therefore not sought to amend it at this stage, but I would appreciate further clarity on the definition and how it will work in practice.

Clause 79 is helpful because it specifies that the CMA cannot require any information subject to legal and professional privilege, or, in Scotland, confidentiality of communications. That is an important point to make and is in line with similar regimes. We support the clarity outlined in subsection (2), which specifies that the limitation applies to producing, taking possession of, and taking copies of or extracts from a privileged communication. I do not need to elaborate much further here. Labour considers this to be a fairly standard procedure and we therefore support clause 79 stand part.

Finally, clause 80 gives the CMA the power to publish a notice of any decision to use its investigatory powers under the digital markets regime to assist an investigation by the regulator in another jurisdiction. The notice may include the regulator that the CMA is assisting, the undertaking that is the subject of investigation, and the matter for which the undertaking is under investigation. Labour welcomes the transparency measures here.

My question is about why that approach has not been afforded to the CMA’s domestic work on digital markets. If the CMA is able to support overseas regulators in ways that might identify the undertaking, I am unclear as to why the CMA is not compelled in the same way for issues that might arise in the UK. I am interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that point, because it is an important one for companies likely to be captured in the SMS definition and for challenger firms that might one day find themselves subject to these regulations, too.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

I thank the hon. Lady. I will probably write to her with examples of where that measure might come in. As I have said, it does not come in if there is an exemption for people with a reasonable excuse. I am not fleet enough of foot to come up with a good example for her at the moment, but I will certainly write to her.

On the domestic situation for the DMU, I will, again, probably write to the hon. Lady, but my interpretation is that it is easier to deal with the potential for defamation and so on when someone has full control of the case in one jurisdiction. If we are working across jurisdictions internationally it is more complex, so the protections need to be there.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 77, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 78 to 80 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mike Wood.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.